Every day we are all bombarded with possibilities. Should I change my job? Should I break up with him? Should I start a podcast? Should I go back to school? Should I change my diet? It is a wonderful and exciting thing to have choices. It is a privilege.
And yet, a sneaky piece of deciding what you want to spend your time and energy on is that sometimes, that thing you’re getting all excited about isn’t really an opportunity that will move you forward. Rather, it’s a distraction. Meaning, it’s something that will ultimately take your focus away from pursuing the things that are truly important to you.
Why would anyone choose to distract themselves from doing the things that matter? Maybe the important stuff is intellectually or emotionally challenging, or requires that you start thinking or acting differently. Maybe there’s a lot of inconvenience involved. Or it’s taking longer than you think you should. These are all natural parts of the process of creating something meaningful, and to be expected.
But they are also an invitation for your ego, aka your inner critic, to kick and say something like, “If this were meant to be, it wouldn’t feel this hard. Let’s go do something else. We were crazy to think this could work anyway.”
Because the ego loves to keep you safe. It wants you to keep doing things the way you’ve always been doing them, because it produces a known result. Which is why whenever your inner critic chimes in, it’s actually a very good sign that you are on to something good. Say “Thank you for caring,” and keep going. (Click to Tweet!)
If you end up taking your inner critic’s advice and decide to take on something that feels more doable, you may think you’re being sensible. When really you’re taking energy away from the things that have the potential to break you and your life open in some way that will delight you and make you more empowered and fulfilled.
Here then are 4 questions to ask yourself before you say yes to a new opportunity. They will help you see whether this particular thing will help you move toward or away from what you truly want.
Question 1: What are you hoping it will make possible?
It’s a worthy exercise to write down what you are hoping this endeavor will do for you. This will help you focus on the parts of the project that are delivering the most value to you, which will make it less likely that it will end up being a distraction. If you are embarking on this with another person, it’s also important to then have a conversation with them about your intentions for the project, and to hear theirs. It will help you both be clearer with yourself and with each other as the process goes on.
Question 2: Does it let you strengthen an area you are seeking to grow?
Will you get to show up in a new way—perhaps speaking up for yourself more, or be forced to challenge your tendency toward perfectionism, or to call on your creativity? Even a project that might not make sense if you looked at it in terms of your career goals or other logical view can make a ton of sense if it helps you grow in an area that you suspect has been holding you back across the board.
Question 3: What will you have to not do because you are doing this?
Although I believe that we all have more time than we think we do, there are only so many hours in a week. If you expect to spend two hours a week doing this particular thing, what will you not be spending those two hours on? Be honest.
Question 4: Where does it fall on the spectrum of passion vs. impact?
Sometimes seeing things laid out visually provides a lot of clarity. So, let’s see where this project falls in terms of how passionate you about it (meaning you get enjoyment, excitement, and/or meaning out of it) versus how much impact it has (meaning, it helps you take care of something important and moves you toward a goal). Below is a graph that maps this out. Which quadrant does this project fit into? If it’s Q3, that’s a pretty good indication that pursuing this thing won’t serve you. Any other quadrant you can make a good case. But Q3… no. Sorry.
What questions do you ask or steps do you take to figure out if a project is a good fit for you or a distraction? I’d love to hear them! Post a comment below.